IDF said to mull shooting Gazans preparing fire kites
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IDF said to mull shooting Gazans preparing fire kites

After warning shots appear to fail to dissuade use of incendiary devices, army reportedly looking into actually targeting suspects

File: Masked Palestinians prepare balloons loaded with flammable material to be flown toward Israel, at the Israel-Gaza border in al-Bureij, central Gaza Strip on June 14, 2018. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)
File: Masked Palestinians prepare balloons loaded with flammable material to be flown toward Israel, at the Israel-Gaza border in al-Bureij, central Gaza Strip on June 14, 2018. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)

The IDF is looking into the legality of targeting groups of Palestinians preparing to send incendiary kites and balloons from Gaza into Israel, according to a Thursday report, as the army searches for ways to stop a spate of launches causing fires across the border.

The army has recently stepped up firing warning shots at groups it sees preparing  kites and helium balloons to send into Israel, but has thus far refrained from shooting at them.

According to a report aired on Hadashot news, the military is studying if it can legally define the kites and helium balloons as weapons.

That would allow the air force to strike those preparing to launch the devices before they send them skyward.

While the kites and balloons have destroyed over 6,000 acres of fields, forests and grasslands in Israel’s border communities, no Israeli have been hurt by them and they have not caused significant damage to any structures.

The Hadashot report came hours after Hamas said it would launch 5,000 balloons and kites at Israel on Friday as part of ongoing protests and to mark the start of the Eid al-Fitr holiday.

Palestinian protesters prepare an incendiary kite to be flown towards Israel on June 8, 2018 during a demonstration along the Israel-Gaza border fence east of Jabalia in the central Gaza Strip. (AFP/Mohammed Abed)

Israel opting to shoot at the kite launchers would be highly controversial, running the risk of hitting other people in groups and drawing fresh charges that it is using excessive force in putting down rampant border violence. However, politicians and others have urged the army to step up its response as the number of kite and balloon incidents have increased.

On Wednesday, the UN General Assembly voted to condemn Israel, but not the Hamas terror group that rules the Strip, for using excessive force against border protests.

Over the past day, the military has fired warning shots twice at groups of Palestinians preparing to launch an incendiary devices toward Israel from the central Gaza Strip. It first adopted the tactic on Saturday.

Earlier Thursday Israeli aircraft also targeted “infrastructure” used to prepare the arson devices.

“We view the use of incendiary balloons and kites very seriously and will continue to act to prevent their use,” the army said in a statement.

Since March 30, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have launched hundreds of kites and helium balloons bearing flammable materials, and occasionally explosives, into Israeli territory, sparking near-daily fires.

An Israeli firefighter attempts to extinguish a fire near the Kibbutz of Nahal Oz, along the border with the Gaza Strip on June 8, 2018 after it was caused by incendiaries tied to kites flown by Palestinian protesters from across the border. (AFP/Jack Guez)

The military has sought to counter these kites and balloons with teams of soldiers operating drones to try and hook the devices and bring them down. Israeli officials have deemed the drone program a success, but it has not provided a perfect solution.

Israeli officials have been split on how to treat the Palestinians who launch these balloons and kites.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan has called on the military to shoot on sight anyone flying these so-called “terror kites.” However, a senior officer in the army’s Southern Command last week said that while the military considers these arson attacks to be serious, they represent “a different kind of danger.”

Palestinian protesters prepare kites loaded with flammable material to be flown towards Israel, at the Israel-Gaza border in al-Bureij, central Gaza Strip on June 14, 2018. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)

The Tax Authority estimates that the damage from the burned lands will cost upwards of NIS 5 million ($1.4 million).

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has proposed withholding tax revenue from the Palestinian Authority to pay for the damage, though critics are skeptical of the plan as the kites and balloons are being launched from Gaza, where the PA has limited control.

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